Millions are set to lose Internet access. Congress must act

Last month, 23 million American households had a difficult choice to make. Do they keep their internet access, or do they forgo having this utility because of rising costs?

This is because the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), the signature broadband access initiative from the Biden administration, has run out of money. Passed under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021, qualifying low-income households received a monthly $30 to $75 subsidy to cover internet service.

Unless Congress acts and appropriates more funding, millions are losing their connection to work, education and other essential daily functions. This includes more than 2.9 million California households who have benefited from the ACP.

Closing the digital divide has long plagued policymakers who have strived to connect more Americans to this vital service. Despite a record number of Californians having access to the internet, for example, approximately 6% of Black, Latino and low-income households continue to lack internet.

With the ACP now expired, families across the nation will undoubtedly sacrifice internet service due to a significant bump in their monthly household expenses. Over 75% of ACP users reported that losing this benefit would either motivate them to change internet plans or drop service entirely.

According to a survey by the Benson Strategy Group, the people who stand to lose the most from this lapsed benefit are military families, seniors and those who live in rural communities.

This should concern us all because losing internet access is not merely a problem for any specific individual, household or demographic group. It will have ripple effects across our nation that all of us must appreciate and acknowledge.

In an analysis by the Chamber of Progress, the expiration of the ACP will have a significant impact on our economy. When more employment opportunities have become reliant on having access to the internet, losing this benefit will disrupt work opportunities or prevent access to them altogether. The potential for lost wages, as a result, stands at $10 billion annually.

In our health system, internet service has become the key in scheduling appointments, refilling prescriptions and seeking preventative care. Programs such as the ACP have facilitated greater access to health, resulting in an annual $300 in savings for individuals using telehealth services. Without continued internet access, we place our country’s health at risk.

Fortunately, there are tangible solutions on the table to address this problem. U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla and LaPhonza Butler recently co-sponsored the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act that would provide an additional $7 billion to keep the program running.